Burkhard Gnärig

19 April, 2016

Leave no one behind: Aligning ICSOs’ efforts for consistent SDG implementation

Co-author Peter Koblowsky, Project Officer – Convening, International Civil Society Centre

A powerful challenge, Leave no one behind, makes the difference between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the MDGs could be fulfilled by raising the average wellbeing – which was easiest achieved by ignoring the poorest and most marginalised – the SDGs demand that everybody is included in the effort. And that means, in order to achieve the SDGs we have to place a special focus on those who are most in need, who are most severely excluded. The fact that the new goals are explicitly based on the demand to Leave no one behind is a badge of honour to millions of civil society activists, and thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs), working tirelessly over many years to secure that the SDGs would be fair and inclusive. Implementing this inspiring objective is the impressive global challenge we have to address today.
SDGs_Logo_cropAgainst this background, the International Civil Society Centre has conducted a survey among International civil society organisations (ICSOs), mapping their planned strategies and activities with regards to the implementation of the SDGs. The survey should help to identify gaps and overlaps between their approaches as a basis for a better alignment of their efforts. The Centre reached out to 30 leading ICSOs and received replies from 20 of them[i].

Here are some of the most important findings:
For approximately two thirds of participating ICSOs, the SDGs are a top priority within their programme and advocacy work, and/or are fully embedded in their strategic planning processes. Most other ICSOs stated that the SDGs are important leverage for their advocacy and communication work.
ICSOs’ activities predominantly focus on good health and well-being (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) – particularly on target 16.2, end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children. Coordinating ICSO activities in these fields will be of special importance to avoid overcrowding, doubling of efforts and competition.
Goals which do not receive the attention they deserve are, for instance, clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) and responsible consumption (SDG 12).
ICSOs focus their efforts mainly on Africa and Asia. Given the global nature of the Goals and the need for significant changes in Europe and North America the lack of focus on the Global North needs to be addressed.
ICSOs’ major concerns in respect to the implementation of the SDGs are: the gap between financial needs and available in funding; lack of coordination among key actors; lack of public awareness of the existence and importance of the goals; uncertain political will to fully implement the Goals; and lack of accountability and availability of data. Most importantly, there is a lack of inclusivity with the most marginalised not at the table. This clearly is not in line with the objective of Leave no one behind.


At last week’s Global Peers meeting, our bi-annual gathering that brings together a group of around 15 global CEOs from the world’s leading ICSOs, leaders discussed the findings of the survey. They specifically pointed out that civil society participation at all levels and in all areas of SDG implementation is of utmost importance. In this context the fact that governments around the world are curtailing the space for civil society action is a major concern.

The leaders asked the International Civil Society Centre to explore possibilities how their organisations can report jointly on how they are faring with the challenge to Leave no one behind.

[i] Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Amnesty International, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Care, Caritas, Christian Blind Mission (CBM), ChildFund, Greenpeace, HelpAge, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Plan, Save the Children, Sightsavers, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes, Transparency International, Transparency – Africa Regional Office, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), World Vision, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

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